In Florida, You’re Presumed Guilty: Drug ‘Crimes’ With No Criminal Intent
Thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling effectively disposing of the need for prosecutors to prove criminal intent, the Florida state government can continue imprisoning people for possessing substances they didn’t know were illegal.
Florida is one of two states (the other is Washington) afflicted with drug possession statutes that don’t require the government to prove criminal intent. The statute permits defendants to offer an affirmative defense of “unwitting possession” – which means that the defendant, not the state, has the burden of proof. The state Supreme Court, ruling the recent case of Florida v. Adkins, has rejected a challenge to that statute filed on behalf of dozens of defendants awaiting trial on drug possession charges.
“There is no constitutional right to possess contraband,” insisted Justice Charles Canady in the majority opinion. “Nor is there a protected right to be ignorant of the nature of the property in one’s possession.”
Like most rulings of this kind, Canady’s opinion begins with the totalitarian premise that the powers exercised by government are presumptively constitutional – and that it is the actions of the individual that must be justified. This inverts the American perspective on law, in which government can exercise only those powers explicitly delegated to it in the applicable constitution (state or federal).
Since the repeal of the 18th Amendment, there has been no constitutional provision authorizing the federal government to regulate the possession or consumption of mood-altering substances. The Florida state constitution is similarly devoid of such provisions. Thus there is no constitutional authority for Florida officials to prosecute people for possession of such substances.